Introducing Brandon Boykin To Third Down In The NFLBREAKING NEWS, Eagles, News, Secondary Thursday, September 6th, 2012
All I could do was smile at rookie nickel back Brandon Boykin when I stood with a couple of media guys talking to him at his locker in the Nova Care Complex the other day. He is bright eyed and bushy tailed and sure to be one of the targets of the Browns when he is in the game covering the slot receiver on Sunday.
In the NFL, rookie means target. The opponent is always looking for a weak link on the defense based on lack of athleticism, size, intelligence or experience. In the meeting room, the coaches circle and attack rookies, especially when it’s their first game.
We asked the youngster about the receiver he will be trying to cover most of the day on Sunday. Boykin gave us the quick version of his scouting report on the receiver he’ll be battling in the slot most of the day, Browns wide receiver number 15, Greg Little.
“Good receiver”, the rookie said in a confident tone. “Big, physical guy. Got deceptive speed. Great ball skills It’s definitely going to be up to me to get up inside of him and really challenge him for the ball. I got to see him in preseason. I’ve got the chance to play with the ones early, so I got the chance to see what he could do and play against him and Mohamed Massaquoi,”
Little was drafted a year ago in the second round out of the University of North Carolina. He stands 6’2” and weighs 220 pounds, which is huge for a wide receiver, while Boykin is 5’9” 182 pounds. Little, who is built more like a running back than a wideout, has a five-inch height advantage and a 38-pound weight advantage.
Last year he caught 61 passes for 709 yards which was an 11.6 yard average. The former North Carolina Tarheel started twelve games a year ago. I’m sure Browns head coach Pat Shurmur is thinking about a break out year when he thinks of Little, so they’re going to be getting him the football.
Boykin’s game plan has to be to use his quickness. Little is going to win the physical part of the game, but the rookie has to use a strategy of not letting the Browns receiver know where he is. He should mix up how he plays this guy and keep him guessing. Sometimes he should play him from an inside technique (aligning yourself on his inside number) and at other times from outside technique (aligning yourself on his outside number).
At times he should move up into his face just before the ball is snapped and try to jam him. At other times he should line up on him, then back off of him just as the quarterback goes into his snap count. Boykin want to be a pain in the neck to Little. He wants to be a pest, who just won’t go away.
He needs to sit down with Jason Avant and talk to him about Little and what he should expect out of him. Boykin should tell Avant his game plan and get his feedback. If possible he should look at some tape on Little with Avant.
Boykin must know exactly how Little runs every route in the route tree: hitch, slant route, out route, in route, come back, the quick out, curl, cross, seam, hook, post, corner, post-corner, and go route. How does he release on each route? How deep does he take each specific route? Does he do anything different on the different routes?
Does he line up different when they’re going to run the ball? How fast is he? Is he more quick than fast? How good is he in changing direction?
Juan Castillo has to be thinking about giving the rookie some help early in the game. I would tell the safeties to keep an eye on the youngster first and let Nmandi Asomugha and Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie go on their own early in the game. They’re veterans they should know what they’re doing early as compared to the rookie.
Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman need to talk to him on the plane on the way to Cleveland, then sit down with him before and after every defensive meeting. You want to let the rookie know that you’re there for him and keeping an eye on him. If he has any questions he should ask them.
You want to look him in the eyes when he comes into the game and make sure the situation isn’t overwhelming him. Once you see he’s okay then you want to make sure he’s getting the defensive calls. Sometimes guys get nervous and it turns off their hearing.
Boykin seemed calm and eager to get this thing started the other day in the locker room. He will play a key role in the Eagles season, starting with the game on Sunday against the Browns. The rookie has got a lot to learn and not much time to learn it. He must grasp everything he can ASAP. The clock is ticking.
This youngster is a superior athletic talent, with speed, power for his size, and tremendous leaping ability. But he’s got his work cut out for him this year because he’s going to be involved in the most complicated play in the NFL today, third down.
If you were Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress and you were looking at the third down matchups, here’s as good of a target as you’re going to find on third down this week against the Eagles. You should read what Eagles slot receiver Jason Avant had to say about being able to push off more this week because of the replacement officials. You know Little will be using his size advantage against the rookie to push off and get open. Most of the replacement officials aren’t going to have the guts to call offensive pass interference against the Browns in their stadium after they complete a pass for a first down.
Little has a year of experience and Boykin is a rookie. The veteran should be able to block Boykin effectively because of his size advantage and that would allow them to run sweeps outside against the nickel defense. The Browns offensive coordinator, who prefers to run any way, will be thinking of ways to take the pressure off of his rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden. Running the football on third and five or less would be one way of doing it.
I guarantee that Childress will target this young man on third down in the run game and in the passing game. If he doesn’t he should be sued for malpractice.
An Overview Of NFL Third Downs
Let’s make it plain about this particular down. The best third down teams are usually the guys playing in the first week of February for the Super Bowl title. Or course the quarterback plays a huge role on this down, but every facet of the offense and defense is tested and stressed. The word team is definitely emphasized on third downs.
I find it fascinating to watch a brilliant quarterback figure out a blitz at the line, change the blocking scheme and the play, then drop back and burn the defense by throwing a perfect pass to the one-matchup advantage he has.
At the same time, I love to see a defense stem (stem means to move into the alignment you’re going to blitz from after the offense is set in their formation) into a blitz with perfect timing, then execute it to free up a blitzer and he nails the quarterback to cause a turnover. Many times a defensive lineman or linebacker will attack a gap , then grab one of the offensive lineman trying to block him, so that offensive lineman can’t slide over and pick up the free blitzer. This is illegal, but if done properly is hard to see and rarely called, especially by replacement officials.
Both of those third down scenarios I described, require tremendous commitment from the coaching staff and the players. That’s why some coaches live in their offices during the season and players get to the team complex at five and six in the morning and don’t leave until nine in the evening.
Quality NFL football is all a combination of study, preparation, game planning and thinking on your feet. There are an innumerable amount of moves the coaches can put into a game plan, but at some point they have to turn it over to the players to make the proper decisions during the pre-snap reads, then execute one the ball is snapped.
Third downs have all different types of categories that have to be studied by both the offense and the defense. First you have to separate third and long from third and short.
Third and long compared to third and short is like comparing night and day. They are totally different and each side of the ball might change as many as seven players because of the down and distance. Teams get big on third and short, while there’s a premium on speed and quickness on third and long.
Different defenses distinguish these groupings at different yardages. For the sake of keeping it simple, let’s say third and short is any third down with five yards and under to go for the offense, while third and long is any third down where the offense needs five yards and more for the first down.
To Be Continued
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